San Francisco presents itself as the Left Coast Poetry Hub, the focal point of all things doggerel. And for a fact, the place does have a lot of free verse action. So I figured I’d ask some of the local poets what they were reading, as opposed to what they weren’t reading. Most people who know anything about poetry know that August Kleinzahler hangs out in San Francisco. And since he’s probably the most famous living poet in the Bay Area, his stuff sells well–that’s a given.
What I wanted to know was this: who’s turning out remarkable poetry? And I don’t care if they’re from the Left Coast or not. Who–regardless of where they’re from–is worthy of note?
Get this: one name kept popping up–Tess Kincaid. I’m not even sure what part of the country she lives in–the Midwest? Maybe. According to the cognoscenti, she has a lovely ‘voice,’ a true poetical sense, and almost never steps over the line separating poetry from specious crap.
He latest volume of verse, which is not yet available, but will be in the next few months, is Unpressed, a title borrowed from William Cullen Bryant. ‘Unpressed’ is an adjective that means “not smoothed with heat.” Its anagrams are resuspend and suspender, in case you were wondering or are a Scrabble freak.
Of Unpressed’s scintillating offerings, there are some real gems. ‘Not Yet’ is worth the price of the book, which also includes a tasty poem called ‘Cannibal.’ Really, I’m not sure what ‘Not Yet’ is talking about, but I do love the way it articulates:
“The dictionary people
are not pleased
to find me
at pictures of exotic places,
of naked snake charmers
like soft sweet leeches.”
And ‘Cannibal’ means whatever the reader wants it to mean, as long as there’s flesh and mastication involved:
“I will lie on top
until you are toasty,
nibble locks of hair
between ripe breasts and fetlock,
smuggle you, melted,
to the other side of the house
to pound and crunch,
pelt the rest of you.”
Remarkable stuff: witty, syncopated with a rhythm that rocks and rolls like music when read out loud. But what really sets Tess apart from the rest of the poetical aspirants is her use of the English language. For example, “lemniscate of fate.” As my eyes traveled over the word ‘lemniscate’ my brain underwent synaptic texturization. Warning lights went off. Sirens sounded.
I had never heard of this word. Rushing to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), I discovered:
Lemniscate comes from the Latin leniscatus meaning “decorated with ribbons,” and refers to any figure-eight shaped curve, such as the lemniscate of Bernoulli, the lemniscate of Gerono, the lemniscate of Booth or Watt’s curve. The term may also designate a polynomial lemniscate or the symbol for infinity ∞.
Some lemniscates are called ‘the Devil’s curve,’ a phrase that has a number of peculiar radiations, including a certain type of sensuality implying inappropriate longing. And Ms. Kincaid employs this word with great skill and a certain insouciant finesse. This type of linguistic dexterity commands respect and attention. Me: I almost swooned. Tess Kincaid is just so damned good at what she does that it must elicit a kind of despair in the hearts of other poets.
So if you’re looking for some good poetry to read, something that causes subliminal flashes in your brain and makes you blush as if just caught in some horrifying sartorial indiscretion, pick up a copy of Unpressed, which gets five stars on the Old Read-O-Meter. Unpressed is as good or better than anything by August Kleinzahler or e.e. cummings, my two favorites.